Tag Archives: Bots

Vote of confidence: Politico Europe makes polling data visual to give readers a better election view | Transform

In an era rife with hacked campaigns, bots and election interference, one news organization has returned to an age-old maxim: Every vote truly does count. And they’re using data to prove it to readers.

Politico Europe, a joint venture between the American media organization Politico and German publisher Axel Springer, unveiled an election-coverage hub ahead of the 2019 European parliamentary votes held in May. It gives citizens a deeper look at the democratic process and allows them to connect their top issues with candidates in the field.

Now called Poll of Polls, the platform offers interactive data visualizations built with Microsoft Power BI. It also provides political news stories and analyses of votes cast during elections within each of the 28 member states of the European Union.

Rings of empty seats inside the European Parliament building.
The European Parliament building. (Getty Images)

Launched in collaboration with Microsoft, the site aims to show readers how their individual votes can affect political outcomes on a continental level.

“To illustrate that, we have charts showing how many votes it would take to switch an MEP (Member of European Parliament),” says Etienne Bauvir, director of business intelligence and technology at Politico Europe.

“In countries where turnout is notoriously low, like some Eastern European countries, it didn’t take many votes in May to shift an MEP and to have her lose a seat or win a seat. That’s one thing we wanted to make evident to readers – the impact of one vote can be big in some countries,” he says.

Case in point: Romania, where the Social Democrats earned 22.5% of the vote – causing the party to lose six parliament seats – while Renew Europe collected 22.4% of the vote – causing that party to gain seven seats. European parliamentary elections are held every five years.

Politico Europe’s new hub provides one page for each country, enabling readers to drill further into more precise 2019 election results, such as how pro-European Union candidates fared in France against skeptics of the EU. (Pro-EU MEPs in France currently outnumber EU skeptics 48 to 28.)

Etienne Bauvir's face.
Etienne Bauvir.

Poll of Polls also tracks fresh polling data in each country, offering projections of 2020 votes in individual nations. That helps readers better understand some of the complexities of European politics, including the power of ideological groups.

“In the projections, we can be reactive and proactive in our data analyses,” Bauvir says. “In the European election process, many national parties come together to form groups in the European Parliament. It’s often not clear which party will form which group. We can offer an accurate picture of that reality.”

Think U.S. elections are confusing? Elections to the European Parliament can span thousands of candidates representing hundreds of parties across 28 nations.

With Power BI, visitors to the Politico hub can use interactive features to maneuver polling or election data in ways that help them digest election night results or votes yet to come – both in national parliaments and for the entire European Parliament.

Hanna Pawelec's face.
Hanna Pawelec.

For example, one Politico visualization shows a graph of polling data in the United Kingdom, where citizens will elect their new parliament Dec. 12. By moving a cursor left and right, readers can view how the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have performed in polling each day from late 2018 to present.

“In the spring, we also had visualizations showing forecasts of how the future European Parliament will look. We could update those visualizations just by changing one data file,” says Hanna Pawelec, a Politico Europe data analyst. “By quickly updating those visualizations, we were one of the first newsrooms to show more in-depth analysis.”

“Power BI is easy enough for a citizen journalist to create a simple interactive with little training, but powerful enough for a seasoned data scientist to do complex analysis across multiple datasets,” says Ben Rudolph, senior director of Microsoft News Labs. “It’s the definition of democratized technology.”

Microsoft News Labs represents the company’s global effort to help journalists and journalism succeed by augmenting human creativity with innovative AI and content-creation technology.

Rudolph’s team began collaborating with Politico Europe after learning that the news organization wanted its audience to understand how the vote in one country could re-shape the entire European political landscape.

The two groups met in Brussels, Belgium (where Politico Europe is based) to discuss solutions that would help readers and viewers better engage with the news organization’s election coverage.

“The challenge wasn’t just wrangling the complexity of 242 parties competing for 705 seats in the European Parliament, but creating an experience that was at once compelling and transparent,” says Vera Chan, Microsoft senior manager for worldwide journalist relations.

Readers flocked to the news site. During the final stages of the European elections in May, Politico Europe’s traffic hit an all-time high with a nearly 30% increase compared to traffic measured one year earlier.

“This election,” Bauvir says, “was the moment to really widen our readership to the average citizen throughout Europe. We’ve now succeeded in retaining much of the additional audience we engaged. That’s another big success due in part to this hub and those visualizations.”

The Politico Europe newsroom where several journalists worked at their desks.
The Politico Europe newsroom in Brussels.

In the months since the election, traffic to Politico Europe remains on average 24% higher compared to the same period in 2018.

Politico Europe is now examining ways to expand the platform, focusing again on Europe, says Natasha Bernard, communications coordinator at Politico Europe.

“Data journalism with Power BI can play a unique role building audience trust,” Rudolph says. “Not only does an interactive visual give readers deep insight into a story, it also gives them unprecedented access to the data behind that insight.

“It’s a completely transparent means of storytelling,” he adds. “We think this will be increasingly important for outlets of all sizes as we approach the 2020 election cycle.”

Images courtesy of Politico Europe.

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Author: Steve Clarke

Microsoft Power Platform adds chatbots; Flow now Power Automate

More bots and automation tools went live on the Microsoft Power Platform, Microsoft announced today. In their formal introductions, Microsoft said the tools will make data sources flow within applications like SharePoint, OneDrive and Dynamics 365, and create more efficiencies with custom apps.

The more than 400 capabilities added to the Microsoft Power Platform focus on expanding its robotic process automation potential for users, as well as new integrations between the platform and Microsoft Teams, according to a blog post by James Phillips, corporate vice president of business applications at Microsoft.

Some of those include robotic process automation (RPA) tools for Microsoft Power Automate, formerly known as Flow, which makes AI tools easier to add into PowerApps. Also newly available are tools for creating user interfaces in Power Automate.

AI Builder adds a point-and-click means to fold common processes such as forms processing, object detection and text classification into apps — processes commonly used for SharePoint and OneDrive content curation.

Microsoft is adding these tools, as well as new security features to analytics platform Power BI, in part to coax customers who remain on premises into the Azure cloud, said G2 analyst Michael Fauscette.

PowerApps reduce the development needed to create necessary connections between systems in the cloud, such as content in OneDrive and SharePoint with work being done in Dynamics 365 CRM, Teams and ERP applications.

Microsoft Power Automate, formerly Flow
Microsoft Power Automate, a low-code app-design tool,is the new version ofFlow.

Chatbots go live

Also announced as generally available at Microsoft Ignite are Power Virtual Agents, do-it-yourself chatbots on the Microsoft Power Platform.

They’ll likely first be used by customer service teams on Dynamics 365, said Constellation Research analyst R “Ray” Wang, but they could spread to other business areas such as human resources, which could use the bots to answer common questions during employee recruiting or onboarding.

If an agent is costing you $15 an hour and the chatbot 15 cents an hour … it’s all about call deflection.
R ‘Ray’ WangAnalyst, Constellation Research

While some companies may choose outside consultants and developers to build custom chatbots instead of making their own on the Microsoft Power Platform, Wang said some companies may try it to build them internally. Large call centers employing many human agents and running on Microsoft applications would be logical candidates for piloting new bots.

“I think they’ll start coming here to build their virtual agents,” Wang said. “[Bot] training will be an issue, but it’s a matter of scale. If an agent is costing you $15 an hour and the chatbot 15 cents an hour … it’s all about call deflection.”

Microsoft Power Platform evolves

PowerApps, which launched in late 2015, originally found utility with users of Microsoft Dynamics CRM who needed to automate and standardize processes across data sets inside the Microsoft environment and connect to outside platforms such as Salesforce, said Gartner analyst Ed Anderson.

Use quickly spread to SharePoint, OneDrive and Dynamics ERP users, as they found that Flow — a low-code app-design tool — enabled the creation of connectors and apps without developer overhead. Third-party consultants and developers also used PowerApps to speed up deliverables to clients. Power BI, Power Automate and PowerApps together became known as the Microsoft Power Platform a year ago.

“PowerApps are really interesting for OneDrive and SharePoint because it lets you quickly identify data sources and quickly do something meaningful with them — connect them together, add some logic around them or customized interfaces,” Anderson said.

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Cloudflare battles malicious bots with ‘fight mode’

Cloudflare is taking aim at malicious bots attacking its customers with a new security measure scheduled to go live for all by the end of the year.

The new Bot Fight Mode is rolling out now as an opt-in only feature to help Cloudflare customers avoid damage caused by malicious bots. John Graham-Cumming, chief technology officer for Cloudflare, described the new mode as a way to “frustrate” and disincentivize bots through tarpitting.

“If our models show that the traffic is coming from a bot, and it’s on a hosting or a cloud provider, we’ll deploy CPU-intensive code to make the bot writer expend more CPU and slow them down. By forcing the attacker to use more CPU, we increase their costs during an attack and deter future ones,” Graham-Cumming wrote in a blog post. “Every minute we tie malicious bots up is a minute they’re not harming the Internet as a whole.”

However, Cloudflare won’t just to waste the resources of malicious bots through computationally intensive challenges. The company also plans to share the IP addresses of bots with its Bandwidth Alliance partners in order to get those bots taken offline. 

Cloudflare said that of the 750 billion HTTP requests it handles per day, 3 billion are made by bots. A company spokesperson could not estimate how many individual bots are making those requests.

The spokesperson did note that how much effort it will take to stop bots will depend on “a number of factors.”

“The persistence of the bot is generally correlated to the value of the target,” the spokesperson told SearchSecurity. “A bot gives up quickly if the site is common and the value of a successful attack is low, but for bots that do things like inventory hoarding, the attacks are persistent.”

According to Graham-Cumming in the blog post, adopting tactics like this is important, because “malicious bots harm legitimate web publishers and applications, hurt hosting providers by misusing resources, and they doubly hurt the planet through the cost of electricity for servers and cooling for their bots and their victims.”

Graham-Cumming acknowledged that Bot Fight Mode lead to even higher electricity and cooling costs, so Cloudflare will be donating to One Tree Planted in order to offset the carbon costs.

Cloudflare also noted that this is just the first step in plans to fight malicious bots.

“Blocking outright is effective in preventing one bot from attacking one website, but the bot will just move on to a softer target. Bot Fight Mode makes that bot spend more time and resources before being able to move on,” the spokesperson said. “We have a number of other ideas we are working on that we’re not quite ready to share yet.”

However, there may be unintended consequences to Bot Fight Mode. Jean-Philippe Paradis, a programmer living near Montreal, shared a note from the Cloudflare Dashboard that warns: “Defeating Bots may affect some actions on your website and/or non-automated traffic. For example, it may block access to your APIs and prevent access from mobile applications.”

Cloudflare did not respond to requests for comment on this warning at the time of this post. Graham-Cumming noted in the blog post that the company’s model “spots the behavior of bots based on past traffic and blocks them,” and he said on Twitter that, “We look at how humans behave on the web vs. how bots behave. Bots behave differently (think how fast they click, or when they click, or what they click etc.)”. But it is unclear what recourse customers will have if access issues arise.

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Microsoft’s David Forstrom Foresees the Invisible and Inevitable Augmentation of AI

A future in which artificial intelligence has become so pervasive that it’s invisible and bots, rather than people, lead our service experiences is the stuff of sci-fi movies. But that future isn’t so far off and, in fact, might not be as scary as we think, says Microsoft’s David Forstrom.

Under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft wants to break boundaries in AI technology, says Forstrom, who BizTech Managing Editor Ann Longmore-Etheridge chatted with at Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, Fla.

Forstrom, director of AI communications, talked about the evolution of the technology, how Microsoft has begun embedding it into products, such as Office and Cortana, and how it can become a go-to tool for small businesses.

BIZTECH: Why is artificial intelligence important, and what has led to its increased importance in the workplace?

Forstrom: AI addresses the ultimate barrier that we face as humans: information and our limited capacity to absorb and act on it.

What has exploded in the last few years is three things: the cloud, which makes data accessible to the world; two, data — enormous amounts of it; and three, advanced algorithms. We’ve had huge breakthroughs from a research perspective just the last couple years that have allowed us to do things like achieve 96 percent accuracy in image detection or human parity in speech recognition.

We’ve even been able to integrate translation into Skype and now into productivity products like Office and PowerPoint.

BIZTECH: What are some real-world use cases that demonstrate how Cortana can be a valuable tool for small businesses?

Forstrom: We’re busy professionals, and Cortana, because it has access to our information, can see if we have made commitments. So, if I have emailed someone and said, “Let’s revisit this topic in three months,” or “Let’s plan to get together about this in a few weeks,” Cortana will actually remind me and say, “I see you made this commitment. Do you want to schedule a meeting for that?” Or, “It looks like you’re going to need to prepare a document for this meeting.”

Another one is calendaring. Let’s say you’re a small business working with partners and vendors, and rather than going to each individual and saying, “Can we meet next Wednesday? What times do you have open?” you can invoke Cortana to assist with that.

Cortana will look at those people’s calendars and availability, and come back with a meeting time that suits everyone. Or, it may say, “Everyone is available at this time, except for one person. Do you want to proceed with scheduling this block of time?”

Cortana is going to evolve into a personal assistant — a true person assistant. If you think about the practices of a personal assistant in real physical life, it’s extending that into the digital realm. It can be available to you throughout your workday, from home to your small business and back home. It’s still early days, though, for Cortana in business.

BIZTECH: If you’re a small business with limited resources to invest in AI technology, what is your best game plan?

Forstrom: I think businesses right now are recognizing that AI is here to stay. It’s not a flash in the pan. In some shape or form, it will be infused into most of our interactions and our technologies.

Small businesses, first of all, need to look at what problems they’re solving for. A good example of how AI can help is bots, which are something many small businesses are entertaining right now to incorporate into their customer service and engagement.

We did a lot of surveying and research across the Seattle area, talking to a lot of businesses, small and large, about how they could see using bots. In one case, in talking with a restaurant owner, it became clear that the hosts were answering phone calls all the time: people calling wanting to know the hours, or the menu, or about gluten-free options, things like that. If the owner was able to implement a simple rules-based bot — if this question, then this answer — that could completely free up the staff to focus on core things they need to be doing to add more value.

Another area that we see small businesses incorporating AI is in the realm of cognitive services. If a business has a product or solution where they could implement computer vision or natural language understanding, where they are doing a lot of textual interaction with customers — those are fairly cheap. It requires a bit of developer and IT knowledge, but it’s low-level. This is low in cost, compared to complex deep-learning models of AI.

BIZTECH: Microsoft recently bought Hexadite, which underscores the growing role of automation in countering security threats. How do you think that automation will improve cybersecurity, and how will it affect the role of humans?

Forstrom: First and foremost is our principle that AI must augment humanity. Security is certainly one of these spaces we see intersecting quite rapidly with AI, and that’s because it’s all about data and the intelligent insights that you can glean out of that data to make decisions across your security portfolio.

Machines trained through deep learning models will be able to process our knowledge of a potential threat and be able to reach a conclusive decision on actions to be taken. But it’s still humans who are being amplified because it’s humans that are making the decisions at the C suite level or the chief security officer level in terms of, “How do we act on that?”

BIZTECH: Speculatively, in five to 10 years, what is the business environment for AI going to look like?

Forstrom: You can think about it like electricity: It’s all around us, totally pervasive in our lives; it manifests to power our devices and things like that. But we don’t talk or think about it. It just happens. It’s there. And it betters my life and enables me to do more.

That’s the future that we see with AI, especially when you get 10 years or further out. The office of the future will be an AI-infused environment, where we benefit from all of these features and functionality, but we don’t think about them anymore.

There are already AI-driven features in PowerPoint and Microsoft Word that are being used, but users don’t recognize that as AI. It’s just the product.

We’ll really start to see a shift away from some of the fears of today, that AI will cause a sort of dystopian environment, to where people realize it does better their lives and increases their productivity.

Read more articles from BizTech coverage of Microsoft Ignite 2017 here

Cortana Skills Kit empowers developers to build intelligent experiences for millions of users

Today, we are pleased to announce the public preview of the Cortana Skills Kit which allows developers to easily create intelligent, personalized experiences for Cortana.

Our vision for Cortana has always been to create a digital personal assistant that’s available to users across all their devices, whenever and wherever they may need an extra hand to be more productive and get things done. With the new Cortana Skills Kit, developers can join in delivering that vision and reach millions of Cortana users across platforms including Windows 10, Android, iOS and soon on even more devices and form factors — like Xbox, the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker and inside cars and mixed reality devices.

To build a Cortana skill, developers can create their bot’s conversational logic using the Microsoft Bot Framework, and publish it to the new Cortana Channel within the Bot Framework, bringing speech capabilities to skills. Developers can understand users’ natural input and build custom machine-learned language models through LUIS.ai, and add intelligence with the power of Cognitive Services.

Cortana has rich knowledge and understanding about the user with the Skills Kit. Developers can now access knowledge about the user and build highly-relevant, personalized experiences based on the user’s preferences and context. Cortana only shares information with the user’s consent.

We realize that we are at the dawn of building conversational experiences for end users. Developers want to reach a large and diverse set of users to understand user needs and behaviors. There are over 145M monthly active users of Cortana worldwide. With the Cortana Skills Kit, developers can immediately reach the 60M users in the US and grow their international reach in the future*. To start building skills today, please visit https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/Cortana.

We are also excited to announce a wide range of partners who have joined us on this journey and are building Cortana skills. Cortana users will be able to access skills from OpenTable, Expedia, Capital One, StubHub,  Food Network, HP, iHeartRadio, Stubhub, Dominos, TuneIn, Uber, CapitalOne, Knowmail, MovieTickets.com, Tact, Skyscanner, Fresh Digital, Gigskr, Gupshup, The Motley Fool, Mybuddy, Patron, Porch, Razorfish, StarFish Mint, Talklocal, UPS, WebMD, Pylon, BigOven, CityFalcon, DarkSky, Elokence, BLT Robotics, Wed Guild, AI Games, XAPP Media,  GameOn, MegaSuperWeb, Verge and Vokkal.co.

To learn more and discover the currently available skills visit: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/cortana/cortana-skills/

*Available in US only. Other markets will be added over time.

Welcome to the invisible revolution

Think of your favorite pieces of technology. These are the things that you use every day for work and play, and pretty much can’t live without.

Chances are, at least one of them is a gadget – your phone, maybe, or your gaming console.

But if you really think about it, chances also are good that many of your most beloved technologies are no longer made of plastic, metal and glass.

Maybe it’s a streaming video service you use to binge watch “Game of Thrones” on or an app that lets you track your steps and calories so you can fit into those jeans you wore back in high school. Maybe it’s a virtual assistant that helps you remember where your meetings are and when you need to take your medicine, or an e-reader that lets you get lost in your favorite book via your phone, tablet or even car speakers.

Perhaps, quietly and without even realizing it, your most beloved technologies have gone from being things you hold to services you rely on, and that exist everywhere and nowhere. Instead of the gadgets themselves, they are tools that you expect to be able to use on any type of gadget: Your phone, your PC, maybe even your TV.

They are part of what Harry Shum, executive vice president in charge of Microsoft’s Technology and Research division, refers to as an “invisible revolution.”

“We are on the cusp of creating a world in which technology is increasingly pervasive but is also increasingly invisible,” Shum said.

Read the full story.

The post Welcome to the invisible revolution appeared first on The Official Microsoft Blog.